Day 30: If I were not afraid…

Day 30: What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

As a teacher of teachers, I get the immense privilege of helping students face their fears and honor their professional identities.  Watching most of them go into the classroom and make the difference that they will make with their students drives my work and is at the center of my heart.

But, what I would do as a teacher if I wasn’t afraid would be to counsel a few of my teacher candidates out of the profession.

NOT EVERYONE SHOULD BE A TEACHER.  Sometimes not even if you really want to be.

I know that there are some people that are very natural teachers with a strong innate understanding for how to make curriculum comprehensible and engaging for students and an openness to learn and improve.  Most candidates however aren’t necessarily “born teachers” nor do they need to be–that’s why we have colleges of education–to help students develop pedagogical skills, pedagogical content knowledge, content knowledge (I mean, honestly, even “born teachers” need strong pedagogical training and professional development).  But, what we can’t teach in schools of education are dispositions necessary to be a teacher: flexibility yet consistency, authenticity, a strong sense of self-identity, an ability to work with diverse groups of learners.  We can give information on these things, emphasize their importance but we can’t change who people are.  And, sometimes, as sweet and wonderful as candidates are, this is not the right profession for them.

Don’t get me wrong, when I see a candidate that raises concerns (and there aren’t so many of them, even within a large program), I do talk to my program director and hope that he will speak to them and counsel them out (it’s not really my position), but it’s not within me to be a dream-killer.   I really struggle with this pull to support these candidates’ development, but also to do what is ultimately right for both the candidate and their potential future students.

I know this thought isn’t a positive way to end this 30-day blogging challenge.  And so, I won’t end it this way.  Instead I’ll end by saying that the other thing I would do if I wasn’t afraid, afraid of being judged or not good enough, afraid of not having enough to say–is to continue blogging daily.  This challenge has shown me that in spite of vacation, heavy workloads, a reappointment file & service commitments, I can make time for writing daily.  And, it doesn’t have to be great or deep; it can be honest and raw.  It is a great thing to see my thoughts over the last 30-days and to have taken the time for reflection each day.  I’d love to continue being a reflective teacher today, tomorrow and throughout my career.

Day 29: How I’ve Changed

Day 29: How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

Well, there are the basics.  I teach (prospective) teachers now rather than teaching 8th graders which means I’m not in the classroom everyday, assignments are fewer but take longer to assess per piece and management is much less of an issue than in middle school (mostly).

Fundamentally, though, I’ve grown more than I’ve changed.  My professional identity, grounded on a blend of theory and practice has been pretty solid from the beginning, but, of course, I’ve learned more theory and had more practice which has helped me to grow a lot as an educator.  In watching colleagues, receiving mentoring, meeting students, becoming a mom, reading theory, research and practice, I’ve looked at the ways that my own thoughts fit alongside the new ideas that I’ve encountered and I’ve integrated these ideas into my practice.

I integrate more technology than I did when I began, but I began in 2001 and I didn’t know as much about using technology as I do now (and it was a very different technological world back then).  I also probably have an even more active classroom than I used to, but that is partly due to the different management issues between preservice teachers and 8th graders.  I understand a more holistic picture of what a student’s day is like, partly from having taught English, Social Studies & Math, but partly from collaborating with colleagues and leading professional development.  I have empathy for the exhaustion of fighting an inherently unfair system, one in which ideologically believe and to which you’ve dedicated your life.  I understand the pain of losing a student that you love and moving forward but never forgetting.

Overall, as an educator, I’ve become more human.  I am less of a “Superwoman,” who must do everything within the confines of her classroom, and more of a person who understands the complex dynamics and environment that make up her classroom and her students’ lives.

Day 28: The Relationship Between Technology & Curriculum

Day 28: Respond: Should technology drive curriculum or vice versa?

This is a tricky question. At the end of the day, curriculum should take into account the technology that can support it but really what should drive both technology use and curriculum are a teacher’s goals, professional identity and pedagogical knowledge of the core academic standards.

I believe that as teachers, we should be aware of and thoughtful of technology.  If Pinterest can help gather resources, Twitter can help make professional connections, blogging can give students an authentic audience for their writing, and Phet simulations can help make science concepts more comprehensible to students, we should be using these technological resources in our classrooms.  They should help support our goals for curriculum and instruction and be incorporated into lessons as much as possible.

But, I also believe that what should drive curriculum is not the power of a tool, but the power of ideas.  As professionals, what should be driving our curriculum is a commitment to helping our students develop the academic skills, college & career readiness skills, personal skills and soft skills to be successful in a 21st century world.  Yes, this means integrating technology, but technology isn’t the driving force.  Being aware of what students will need to be successful in their academic and life pursuits, knowing what makes a good citizen (digital and actual), and supporting students to grow towards making powerful and positive choices are all what should be driving our curriculum.

So, let us reclaim our professionalism and use all of the tools, including technology, at our disposal, to make a rich, inclusive, diverse, engaging curriculum that appeals to multiple learning styles without assuming that one size fits all students.

Day 27: Catching Up on Weekends & Holidays

Day 27: What roles do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

When I first saw the topic of today’s post, my immediate thought was, “What are weekends and holidays?” since often it seems like I work 7 days a week and the only difference between weekends and holidays are that I have more distractions with not only the dog at home, but also my husband and son, which then creates this pull between getting work done and spending time with my family.

BUT, actually, the title of this post, “Catching Up on Weekends & Holidays” has several meanings.  I am often working on weekends and holidays–lectures have to be given, work needs to be graded and students still have questions on the weekends so in one way, the weekends and holidays can be a time to catch-up on the overflow of tasks that come from the week into the weekend.

However, that’s not all I catch up on during the weekends.  The weekends are also a time for me to catch up with my family and friends, spend time with them and reconnect to remember why it is that it’s important for me to leave this world a little better each day.  Catching up on my social life, on sleep and on connectedness is vital to renewing my love for teaching and keeping me from burning out.

This second type of “catch up” has only started really in this last year as I’ve been working to find the balance between work and personal life and so I have some “catching up” to do on the concept of taking a weekend or a holiday.  In academic work and in teaching, everything filters through the lens of teaching so although I’m using the weekends more effectively to strike a balance, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever fully “catch up” on the idea of a real weekend or holiday (or at least not for awhile).

Day 26: My 3 Favorite Go To Sites for Teaching Resources

Day 26: What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

1) Edutopia

I love–it’s an amazing set of resources, well-organized and user friendly on a diverse set of topics.  It’s also great because the articles are both relevant to my work (getting me thinking about teacher education) and accessible and relevant to my credential candidates.

2) Pinterest

I love Pinterest because of its creativity and visual nature.  My own boards allow me to not only collect resources for my students, but also to explore my own hobbies and interests.  If I were at the elementary level, Pinterest would probably be at the top of my list, but I still find it to be a great resource and a great place to keep track of interesting resources.

3) Tie: Teaching Tolerance and Facing History and Ourselves

Both Teaching Tolerance (sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and Facing History and Ourselves are invaluable resources for social justice educators who want powerful curriculum and food for thought regarding issues of diversity and perspectives in history and in contemporary society.  These resources are invaluable to my own professional identity.

Day 25: The Ideal Collaboration

Day 25: The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?

My students making appointment partners and playing People Bingo yesterday

My students making appointment partners and playing People Bingo

Students talking about literacy theory in my active learning classroom for EDSE 457 (Reading & Writing in Secondary Schools)

Students talking about literacy theory in my active learning classroom for EDSE 457 (Reading & Writing in Secondary Schools)

Discussing Teacher Knowledge, Dispositions & Actions in EDSE 436 Class Gallery Walk

Discussing Teacher Knowledge, Dispositions & Actions in EDSE 436 Class Gallery Walk

photo 1

Students working on their conceptions of the “ideal” teacher’s knowledge, dispositions and actions

I actually feel incredibly blessed in teaching pre-service candidates in that often my ideal picture of collaboration between students is often being enacted in my classroom.  This ideal collaboration is founded upon mutual respect, ideas, and openness to the ideas of other.  Collaboration is based on sharing of ideas and working together towards common goals.  Since the students in my courses are working towards the common goals of being secondary teachers, they are in class for similar reasons, but because they bring in diverse experiences, content area backgrounds and ways of thinking, they are able to contribute to one another far more than I could contribute to them individually.  They work together on particular projects, but also work together on the greater project of becoming a strong teachers.

Day 24: Why I Connect with Linked Learning

Day 24: Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why?

Today was a bit of a toss-up between Linked Learning and Project-Based Learning (PBL), but since Linked Learning incorporates elements of PBL, I decided to go with Linked Learning.  Linked Learning is a California high school initiative that focuses on college and career readiness through integrated curriculum that is connected specifically to a Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathway.

I love Linked Learning because it’s really about thinking outside of the box.  Instead of staying in the silos of our academic worlds, Linked Learning principles encourage collaboration of teachers from multiple content areas in connection with a career-relevant application.  So, for example, if a student was in a marketing academy, they might have a cross-curricular project in economics, math, English, media and music classes that had them investigate the market for a particular item, write a proposal for the marketing plan of the item, taking into account the projected cost of manufacturing, profit margin, break-even point and price of the marketing campaign, and create a jingle/commercial for the item.  What an awesome and engaging form of PBL that is relevant to a career pathway!

Now, Linked Learning isn’t only about these awesome projects.  Students in Linked Learning courses also engage in a rigorous standards-based academic curriculum that prepares them for college, but the added element of career readiness and working together on these larger projects in relation to a particular career pathway develops critical 21st century skills and soft-skills (i.e. professional skills that are often not taught in traditional classroom settings).  Linked Learning also involves the community through internships, externships, and having community members from various professions participate in the evaluation and critique of culminating projects.

I love the interconnectedness of Linked Learning and the way that it goes hand in hand with the critical thinking that is at the heart of the design of the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, it is the type of authentic assessment by which I wish that all student learning could be measured.

Day 23: Involving the Community in My Classroom

Day 23: Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

This one is a tough one depending on how we conceive the notion of “community.” In a teacher credentialing program, we are always at work in the school community through fieldwork and practicum hours and having my course embedded on school sites has allowed me to involve the “community” at the school by inviting teachers and administrators to participate in the gallery walk showcase of student cross-curricular projects.  I also invite the “community” of my PLN into my classroom by regularly tweeting pictures and insights from my classroom.  In this way, I make my practice public and invite a view of my classroom.

As far as the local community, however, I haven’t really involved the community in learning in my classroom  so much. I’d be interested in having former students who are working in the community come back to my classroom in order to share insights that they have from their work in the community and the way that they incorporate the community into their teaching and learning processes.

Day 22: My PLN

Day 22: What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?

My PLN (personal learning network) is comprised of educators (and teacher educators) I know and have worked with before, those I have met and networked with at conferences, organizations that provide educational resources for myself and my credential candidates (edutopia and Facing History & Ourselves are two of my favorites), sociologists and activists (that help keep me grounded in what’s happening in the world around me and connected to my core commitments), writers, and former students.

My PLN helps me keep updated on what’s currently going on in the world and my field of education.  As I mentioned above, having people in my PLN from the community and from academia outside my field, but in closely related fields, allows me to remember the larger social contexts in which I’m embedded.  Having connections in my field helps me to see the work of my colleagues and new innovations that are happening each day.  It also helps me gain resources to not reinvent the wheel and it helps to reinforce some of the concepts that I’m teaching in class.  Just this week, I was talking with a former students about the importance of parent communication, then an article from edutopia on the power of positive parent interaction appears via a member of my PLN in one of my news feeds and I get to share it via Twitter. This is also a point I’ll be talking about in my lectures this week on classroom management.

My PLN also helps to keep me connected to other educators.  Sometimes, I’ll be feeling a bit discouraged after a rough day (or week) and I’ll stumble upon a twitter chat.  Participating in a twitter chat NEVER FAILS to help lift my spirits as I’m reminded of my fellow educators who are working towards similar goals.  It breaks the sense of isolation that sometimes teaching (particularly university teaching at a commuter school) can sometimes bring.  My PLN also helps keep me in touch with my students outside of class.  While e-mail can be an effective tool of communication, sometimes the short interactions via Twitter can be just as effective and more timely in working with students.

I am incredibly thankful for my PLN.  They help me to grow, push me to think, and help me to be a better educator each day.  They push me outside of the box and inside a shared world of experience and adventure in a quest to improve my work each day.

Day 21: Bringing Myself Into the Classroom

Day 21: Do you have other hobbies/ interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain

Well, there are really only so many hours in a day and quite a lot of them lately have been spent on teaching and preparing my reappointment file so I could just say no and explain how I have no life outside of my job, but that would be really sad and somewhat untrue.

Luckily, I’m at the point in my life where I’m working (sometimes more successfully than others) at work-life balance, but right now between work and life, there isn’t a ton of time for “hobbies” per se, but my “out of work” interests that I bring into my classroom teaching are mainly: my family & my love of social media.

My family is my main out-of-work life interest.  I have a husband (who was a former ELL when he came to this country at 9), 2 adopted daughters that are adults and an 8-year old son.  Given the experiences my husband had in transition to the US, my girls had in high school and those that I am helping to support my son through in elementary school, I bring a lot of perspective to my teacher candidates about working with parents and supporting students with various types of special needs (linguistic needs, socio-emotional needs, needs from being in poverty, gifted and talented student needs, etc.).  Being a mother has really changed my teaching and has helped me to realize the importance of truly working in collaboration with parents for the success of their students.  That’s something we don’t always emphasize enough in the teacher education classroom, but it’s something I’m really committed to promoting.

The other “hobby” or interest that I bring into the classroom is my love of social media.  I am often posting pictures via Instagram and Twitter about my classroom.  Twitter is a class requirement to help students create PLNs and a community of learning that extends beyond the classroom.  I bring this blog to my students and friends via Facebook and Twitter. And, we discuss a lot of the resources available for teachers via Pinterest.  Since the snippets of time that I have outside of work & family are online, I might as well also make this time useful in my work life.

So, actually, in looking at these interests, I guess I don’t have that much of a life…but I do appreciate the integration of the things that are important and my free time into my classroom life.  Teaching is my passion and the lens through which I filter many other things in my world.